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Poetry and the Art of Speech
GA 281

Lecture VIII

29 March 1923, Stuttgart

Before we essay the second part of our programme, I shall permit myself to point briefly to the genesis of poetry – in man’s inner nature. For what ought to lie at the foundation of a knowledge of man is the following perception: in the first instance, the world, the universe, the cosmos is artistically active in man; but man then brings forth from himself again what the aesthetic activity of the cosmos has inlaid in him, as art.

Two elements must collaborate in a man, working through the powers of his spirit and soul, in order for poetry (in the general way of things) to be engendered and given form. It is not thought – even in the most intellectual poetry it is not thought as such – that is shaped by the artist. It is the collaboration, the wonderful interaction between breathing and blood-circulation. In breathing, the human being is entirely conjoined with the cosmos. The air which I have just breathed in was formerly an ingredient in the cosmos, and it will afterwards become an ingredient in the cosmos once more. In breathing I absorb into myself the substantiality of the cosmos, and then release to the cosmos once more what was briefly within me. Anyone who experiences this – anyone with a real feeling for this breathing-process – will find in it one of the most marvellous mysteries of the whole formation of the world. And this interchange between man and the world finds its inner formation in something closely bound up with the breathing-rhythm: the rhythm of blood-circulation. In a mature man the ratio expressed in the relation between respiration and pulse beat is an average one to four: eighteen breaths (or thereabouts) and seventy-two pulse-beats per minute. Between the two is generated that inner harmony which constitutes man’s entire inner life of plastic and musical creativity.

The following remarks are not advanced as exact knowledge, but by way of a picture. We see engendered before us a spirit of light who, on the waves of the air, plays into man through his breathing. The breath takes hold of the blood-circulation, as of the occult workings of the human organism. We see Apollo, the god of light, carried on the billows of air in the breathing-process, and in his lyre the actual functioning of the blood-circulation. Every poetic act, every forming act of poetry ultimately rests on this ratio between breathing, as inwardly experienced, and the inner experience of the circulation of the blood. Subconsciously our breath counts the pulse-beats; and subconsciously the pulse-beats count the breaths dividing and combining, combining and dividing to mark out the metre and the syllable-quantities. It is not that the manifestations of poetry in speech adapt themselves so as to conform either to respiration or to the circulation of the blood: but rather the ratio between the two. The configuration of syllables may be quite irregular, but in poetry they stand in a certain ratio to one another, essentially similar to that between breathing and circulation.

We can see this in the case where poetry first comes before us, in what is perhaps the most congenial and readily comprehensible form – the hexameter. Here we can see how the first three verse-feet and the caesura stand in a mutual ratio of four to one. The hexameter repeats this ratio of blood‑circulation to breathing a second time. Man receives the spiritual into his own inner processes and inner activities when he creates poetry out of what he is at every moment of his earthly life: a product of breathing and blood-circulation. He articulates this artistically through the syllables in quantity and metre. And we approach intensification and relaxation, tension and release, in a properly artistic way when we allow fewer or more syllables to the unit of breath. And these will then balance each other out in accordance with their inherent natural proportions. In other words, we must adjust the timing of the verse in the right way.

If we let the verse proceed according to the proportion ordained by the cosmos itself, which subsists between breathing and blood-circulation, we arrive at epic. If we ascend towards an assertion of our own inner nature; i.e., let the breathing recede, refrain from activating the life of the breath, do not allow it to count up the pulse-beats on the ‘lyre’ of the blood-circulation – when we recede with our breathing into ourselves and make the pulsation of the blood the essential thing, reckoning up the notches (so to speak) scored onto the blood-stream, we arrive at an alternative form of metrical verse. If we are concerned with the breathing, which calculates, as it were, the blood-circulation, we have recitation: recitation flows in conformity with the breathing-process. If the pulsation of the blood is our criterion, so that the blood engraves its strength, weakness, passion, emotion, tension and relaxation onto the flux of the breath – then declamation arises: declamation pays more attention to the force or lightness, strength or weakness of emphasis given to the syllables, with a high or low intonation. Recitation, in accordance with the quietly flowing breath-stream, reckons only the blood-circulation, and this is communication in poetry – whereas declamation is poetry as description. And in fact everyone who practises speech-formation must ask himself when confronted with a poem: Have I to recite here or declaim? They are two fundamentally different nuances of this art-form. We realise this when we see how the poet himself differentiates in a wonderful way between declamation and recitation.

Compare in this respect the Iphigeneia Goethe composed in Weimar, before he became acquainted in Italy with the Greek style. Observe the Iphigeneia he wrote at that time: it is entirely declamatory. Then he comes to Italy and grows absorbed in his own way in what he terms Greek art (it was not really still Greek art, but he does feel in it an after-effect of Greek art): he rewrites his Iphigeneia in the recitative mode. And while declamation, as stemming from the blood, passes over into recitation, which stems from the breathing, here that inwardly more Nordic, that Germanic disposition of feeling comes to adopt an outward artistic form that works through quantities and metre in this play which Hermann Grimm has aptly christened the “Roman Iphigeneia”. For someone with artistic sensibility there is the greatest conceivable difference between Goethe's German and his Roman Iphigeneia. We do not wish today to manifest a special sympathy or antipathy for one version or the other, but to indicate the tremendous difference, which should be apparent upon hearing a passage from the Iphigeneia either in recitation or declamation. Examples from both versions are now to be presented.

As for the hexameter, we shall encounter this in Schiller’s “Der Tanz”. A correct, regular metre – not necessarily the hexameter – we will come upon this in some poems by Mörike, a lyricist who inclines toward the ballad-form.

If we survey the aesthetic evolution of mankind, we may experience decisively how in ancient Greece everything became recitative and man lived altogether more in his natural surroundings. The life of recitation lies in the breathing-process, in quantitative metres. The declamatory emerges out of the northern sense of inwardness, the depths of feeling we find in the soul and spiritual life of Central Europe. It relies more upon weight and metre. And if, in his process of creation, the Divinity holds sway over the world through quantity, weight and proportion, then the poet is seeking through his declamatory and recitative art to hearken to the regency of the Divine – to do so in a poetic intimacy, through observing the laws of quantity and metre in recitation, and through an intimate feeling for metre and weight in the high and low tones of declamation.

In this context we will now present Schiller’s “Tanz” to exemplify the hexameter; then Mörike’s “Schön – Rohtraut” and “Geister am Mummelsee”, which are in a ballad-style; and lastly a short passage from Goethe’s German and Roman Iphigeneia. [Note 30]


Siehe, wie schwebenden Schritts im Wellenschwung sich die Paare

Drehen! Den Boden berührt kaum der geflügelte Fuss.

Seh ich flüchtige Schatten, befreit von der Schwere des Leibes?

Schlingen im Mondlicht dort Elfen den luftigen Reihn?

Wie, vom Zephyr gewiegt, der leichte Rauch in die Luft fliesst,

Wie sich leise der Kahn schaukelt auf silberner Flut,

Hüpft der gelehrige Fuss auf des Takts melodischer Woge,

Säuselndes Saitengetön hebt den ätherischen Leib.

Jetzt als wollt es mit Macht durchreissen die Kette des Tanzes,

Schwingt sich ein mutiges Paar dort in den dichtesten Reihn.

Schnell vor ihm her entsteht ihm die Bahn, die hinter ihm schwindet,

Wie durch magische Hand öffnet und schliesst sich der Weg.

Sieh! jetzt schwand es dem Blick; in wildem Gewirr durcheinander

Stürzt der zierliche Bau dieser beweglichen Welt.

Nein, dort schwebt es frohlockend herauf; der Knoten entwirrt sich;

Nur mit verändertem Reiz stellet die Regel sich her.

Ewig zerstört, es erzeugt sich ewig die drehende Schöpfung,

Und ein stilles Gesetz lenkt der Verwandlungen Spiel.

Sprich, wie geschiehts, dass rastlos erneut die Bildungen schwanken,

Und die Ruhe besteht in der bewegten Gestalt?

Jeder ein Herrscher, frei, nur dem eigenen Herzen gehorchet

Und im eilenden Lauf findet die einzige Bahn?

Willst du es wissen? Es ist des Wohllauts mächtige Gottheit,

Die zum geselligen Tanz ordnet den tobenden Sprung,

Die, der Nemesis gleich, an des Rhythmus goldenem Zügel

Lenkt die brausende Lust und die verwilderte zähmt.

Und dir rauschen umsonst die Harmonien des Weltalls?

Dich ergreift nicht der Strom dieses erhabnen Gesangs?

Nicht der begeisternde Takt, den alle Wesen dir schlagen?

Nicht der wirbelnde Tanz, der durch den ewigen Raum

Leuchtende Sonnen schwingt in Kühn gewundenen Bahnen?

Das du im Spiele doch ehrst, fliehst du im Handeln, das Mass.

Friedrich Schiller.

[Though by different means, Sir John Davies also managed to devise a highly-polished, regular metre to reproduce in English the classical .stateliness of a courtly dance. The following section treats of “The Antiquitte of Dancing,” and is taken from his “Orchestra, or A Poeme of Dauncing”:

Dauncing (bright Lady) then began to be,

When the first seedes whereof the world did spring,

The Fire, Ayre, Earth and Water did agree,

By Loves perswasion, Natures mighty King,

To leave their first disorder’d combating;

And in a daunce such measure to observe,

As all the world their motion should preserve.

Since when they still are carried in a round,

And changing come one in anothers place,

Yet doe they neyther mingle nor confound,

But every one doth keepe the bounded space

Wherein the daunce doth bid it turne or trace:

This wondrous myracle did Love devise,

For Dauncing is Loves proper exercise.

Like this, he fram’d the Gods eternall bower,

And of a shapelesse and confused masse

By his through-piercing and digesting power

The turning vault of heaven formed was:

Whose starrie wheeles he hath so made to passe,

As that their movings doe a musick frame,

And they themselves, still daunce unto the same.

Or if this (All) which round about we see

(As idle Morpheus some sicke braines hath taught)

Of undevided Motes compacted bee,

How was this goodly Architecture wrought?

Or by what meanes were they together brought?

They erre that say they did concur by chaunce,

Love made them meete in a well-ordered daunce.

As when Amphion with his charming Lire

Begot so sweet a Syren of the ayre,

That with her Rethorike made the stones conspire

The ruines of a Citty to repayre,

(A worke of wit and reasons wise affayre)

So Loves smooth tongue, the motes such measure taught

That they joyn’d hands, and so the world was wrought.

Sir John Davies (1569-1626).]

Two Ballads:


Wie heisst König Ringangs Töchterlein?

Rohtraut, Schön-Rohtraut.

Was tut sie denn den ganzen Tag,

Da sie wohl nicht spinnen und nähen mag?

Tut fischen und jagen.

O dass ich doch ihr Jäger wär’!

Fischen und Jagen freute mich sehr. –

– Schweig stille, mein Herze!

Und über eine kleine Weil’,

Rohtraut, Schön-Rohtraut,

So dient der Knab’ auf Ringangs Schloss

In Jägertracht und hat ein Ross,

Mit Rohtraut zu jagen.

O dass ich doch ein Königssohn wär’!

Rohtraut, Schön-Rohtraut lieb’ ich so sehr.

– Schweig stille, mein Herze!

Einstmals sie ruhten am Eichenbaum,

Da lacht Schön-Rohtraut:

‘Was siehst mich an so wunniglich?

Wenn du das Herz hast, küsse mich!’

Ach erschrak der Knabe!

Doch denket er: mir ist’s vergunnt,

Und küsset Schön-Rohtraut auf den Mund.

– Schweig stille, mein Herze!

Darauf sie ritten schweigend heim,

Rohtraut, Schön-Rohtraut;

Es jauchzt der Knab’ in seinem Sinn:

Und würdst du heute Kaiserin,

Mich sollt’s nicht kränken:

Ihr tausend Blätter im Walde wisst,

Ich hab’ Schön-Rohtrauts Mund geküsst!

– Schweig stille, mein Herze!


Vom Berge was kommt dort um Mitternacht spät

Mit Fackeln so prächtig herunter?

Ob das wohl zum Tanze, zum Feste noch geht?

Mir klingen die Lieder so munter.

O nein!

So sage, was mag es wohl sein?

Das, was du da siehest, ist Totengeleit,

Und was du da hörest, sind Klagen.

Dem König, dem Zauberer, gilt es zuleid,

Sie bringen ihn wieder getragen.

O weh!

So sind es die Geister vom See!

Sie schweben herunter ins Mummelseetal,

Sie haben den See schon betreten,

Sie rühren und netzen den Fuss nicht einmal,

Sie schwirren in leisen Gebeten –

O schau!

Am Sarge die glänzende Frau!

Jetzt öffnet der See das grünspiegelnde Tor;

Gib acht, nun tauchen sie nieder!

Es schwankt eine lebende Treppe hervor,

Und – drunten schon summen die Lieder.

Hörst du?

Sie singen ihn unten zur Ruh.

Die Wasser, wie lieblich sie brennen und glühn!

Sie spielen in grünendem Feuer;

Es geisten die Nebel am Ufer dahin,

Zum Meere verzieht sich der Weiher. –

Nur still!

Ob dort sich nichts rühren will?

Es zuckt in der Mitten – O Himmel ach hilf!

Nun kommen sie wieder, sie kommen!

Es orgelt im Rohr und es klirret im Schilf;

Nur hurtig, die Flucht nur genommen!


Sie wittern, sie haschen mich schon!

Eduard Mörike (1804-1875).

[For something similar in English we need look no further than the authors of the celebrated Lyrical Ballads:



Oft I had heard of Lucy Gray:

And, when I crossed the wild,

I chanced to see at break of day

The solitary child.

No mate, no comrade Lucy knew;

She dwelt on a wide moor,

– The sweetest thing that ever grew

Beside a human door!

You yet may spy the fawn at play,

The bare upon the green;

But the sweet face of Lucy Gray

Will never more be seen.

‘To-night will be a stormy night –

You to the town must go;

And take a lantern, Child, to light

Your mother through the snow.’

‘That, Father! will I gladly do:

’Tis scarcely afternoon –

The minster-clock has just struck two,

And yonder is the moon!’

At this the Father raised his hook,

And snapped a faggot-band;

He plied his work; – and Lucy took

The lantern in her hand.

Not blither is the mountain roe:

With many a wanton stroke

Her feet disperse the powdery snow,

That rises up like smoke.

The storm came on before its time:

She wandered up and down;

And many a hill did Lucy climb:

But never reached the town.

The wretched parents all that night

Went shouting far and wide;

But there was neither sound nor sight

To serve them for a guide.

At day-break on a hill they stood

That overlooked the moor;

And thence they saw the bridge of wood,

A furlong from their door.

They wept – and, turning homeward, cried,

‘In heaven we all shall meet;’

– When in the snow the mother spied

The print of Lucy’s feet.

Then downwards from the steep hill’s edge

They tracked the footmarks small;

And through the broken hawthorn hedge,

And by the long stone-wall;

And then an open field they crossed:

The marks were still the same;

They tracked them on, nor ever lost;

And to the bridge they came.

They followed from the snowy bank

Those footmarks, one by one,

Into the middle of the plank;

And further there were none!

– Yet some maintain that to this day

She is a living child;

That you may see sweet Lucy Gray

Upon the lonesome wild.

O’er rough and smooth she traps along,

And never looks behind;

And sings a solitary song

That whistles in the wind.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850).

From “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Part V:

And soon I heard a roaring wind:

lt did not come anear;

But with its sound it shook the sails,

That were so thin and sere.

The upper air burst into life!

And a hundred fire-flags sheen,

To and fro they were hurried about!

And to and fro, and in and out,

The wan stars danced between.

And the coming wind did roar more loud,

And the sails did sigh like sedge;

And the rain poured down from one black cloud;

The Moon was at its edge.

The thick black cloud was cleft, and still

The Moon was at its side:

Like waters shot from some high crag,

The lightning fell with never a jag,

A river steep and wide.

The loud wind never reached the ship,

Yet now the ship moved on!

Beneath the lightning and the Moon

The dead men gave a groan.

They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,

Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;

It had been strange, even in a dream,

To have seen those dead men rise.

The helmsman steered, the ship moved on;

Yet never a breeze up-blew;

The mariners all ’gan work the ropes,

Where they were wont to do;

They raised their limbs like lifeless tools –

We were a ghastly crew.

The body of my brother’s son

Stood by me, knee to knee:

The body and I pulled at one rope,

But he said nought to me.

‘I fear thee, ancient Mariner!’

Be calm, thou Wedding-Guest!

’Twas not those souls that fled in pain,

Which to their corses came again,

But a troop of spirits blest:

For when it dawned – they dropped their arms,

And clustered round the mast;

Sweet sounds rose slowly through their mouths,

And from their bodies passed.

Around, around, flew each sweet sound,

Then darted to the Sun;

Slowly the sounds came back again,

Now mixed, now one by one.

Sometimes a-dropping from the sky

I heard the sky-lark sing;

Sometimes all little birds that are,

How they seemed to fill the sea and air

With their sweet jargoning!

And now ’twas like all instruments,

Now like a lonely flute;

And now it is an angel’s song,

That makes the heavens be mute.

It ceased; yet still the sails made on

A pleasant noise till noon,

A noise like of a hidden brook

In the leafy month of June,

That to the sleeping woods all night

Singeth a quiet tune.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834).

In a further attempt to make clear the distinction between a recitative and declamatory treatment of the same subject matter in English, we present an additional example of a Psalm in the Authorized Version and the Countess of Pembroke’s translation – in this instance the ninety-eighth Psalm:

O Sing unto the LORD a New song,

for hee hath done marvellous things:

his right hand, and his holy arme hath gotten him the victorie.

The LORD hath made knowen his salvation:

his righteousnesse hath hee openly shewed in the sight of the heathen.

Hee hath remembred his mercie and his trueth

toward the house of Israel:

all the ends of the earth have seene

the salvation of our God.

Make a joyfull noise unto the LORD, all the earth:

make a lowd noise, and rejoyce, and sing praise.

Sing unto the LORD with the harpe:

with the harpe, and the voice of a Psalme.

With trumpets and sound of cornet:

make a joyfull noise before the LORD, the King.

Let the sea roare, and the fulnesse thereof:

the world, and they that dwell therein.

Let the floods clap their handes:

let the hills be joyfull together

Before the LORD, for he commeth to judge the earth:

with righteousnesse shall hee judge the world,

and the people with equitie.


O sing Jehova, he hath wonders wrought,

A song of praise that newnesse may commend:

His hand, his holy arme alone hath brought

Conquest on all that durst with him contend.

He that salvation doth his ellect attend,

Long hid, at length hath sett in open view:

And now the unbeleeving Nations taught

His heavinly justice, yelding each their due.

His bounty and his truth the motives were,

Promis’d of yore to Jacob and his race

Which ev’ry Margine of this earthy spheare

Now sees performed in his saving grace.

Then earth, and all possessing earthy place,

O sing, O shout, O triumph, O rejoyce:

Make lute a part with vocall musique beare,

And entertaine this king with trumpet’s noise.

Hore, Sea, all that trace the bryny sands:

Thou totall globe and all that thee enjoy:

You streamy rivers clapp your swymming hands: You

Mountaines echo each at others joy, See on the

Lord this service you imploy, Who comes of

earth the crowne and rule to take:

And shall with upright justice judg the lands,

And equall lawes among the dwellers make.

Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke.]

It was once remarked by someone who had listened very superficially to what we have tried to demonstrate here – of how the art of poetry must be traced back to an interplay, exalted and interfused with super-sensible forces, between the spirit of breathing and the spirit of blood-circulation – it was once remarked: Well, the art of poetry will be mechanised! will be reduced to a purely mechanical system: A materialistically-minded verdict typical of our age! The only conceivable possibility is that the psychic and spiritual stand as abstract as can be in well-worn conceptual forms over against the solid material facts (to adopt an expression from the German classical period) – and those include the human organs and their functions in the human being. A true understanding of the close collaboration between the spiritual-super-sensible and the physical-perceptible is reached, however, only by one who everywhere sees spiritual events still vibrating on in material events. Anyone who follows the example of that critic who spoke against our intimations of the truly musical and imaginative qualities of poetry is really saying something – and very paradoxical it sounds – like this: There are theologians who affirm that God’s creative power is there to create the solid material world. But God’s creative power is materialised, if one says that God does not refrain from creating the solid material world. It is quite as clever to say that we materialise the art of poetry if we represent the super-sensible spirit as sufficiently powerful, not only to penetrate into materiality, but even into a rhythmical-artistic moulding of the breathing-process and circulatory-process – like Apollo playing on his lyre. The bodily-corporeal nature of man is again made one with the psychic-spiritual. This does not generate super-sensible abstractions in a Cloudcuckooland, but rather a genuine Anthroposophy, and an anthroposophical art sustained by Anthroposophy. We see how the spiritual holds sway and weaves within corporeal man, and how artistic creation means making rhythmical, harmonious and plastic that which is spiritual in the bodily-physical functions. The age-old, intuitive saying is once more seen to be true: the heart is more than this physiological organ situated in the breast, as known to external sight; the heart is connected with man’s entire soul-life, as being the centre of the blood-circulation. It must be felt anew that just as the heart is connected with the soul, so the essence of breathing is connected with the spiritual. There was a time when man felt this and still saw in the last departing breath the soul abandoning the body. For a clever, enlightened age which disregards such matters, a science of abstractions that is cut off from reality and inwardly dead may have a certain validity. But for a knowledge that is at the same time (in the sense of a Goethean perception) the foundation of true art – it must be said that this knowledge not only has to win through to the unity of the psychic-spiritual and physical corporeality in man, but has also to bring it to life artistically. A dead, abstract science can indeed be grounded on the dichotomy of matter and spirit. On this path it is not possible to create life-giving art. Hence our science, however appropriate it may be in all technical matters, however well-qualified to form the groundwork for everything technological, is eminently inartistic. Hence it is so alien to man; for Nature herself becomes an artist at the point where she produces man.

This, however, underlies particularly the art of poetry.